Amazing Kid: Teen Gives Kids Access to Technology With Computer Recycling
Alexander Lin is more than just a teenager interested in computers -- he transformed his passion for technology into a cause that helps provide kids in his community and around the world access to computers, while at the same time creating a sustainable way to manage the disposal of electronic waste.
Lin, 16, designed a computer donation and refurbishment program in his hometown of Westerly, R.I., and has established computer centers around the world. Under his guidance, more than 300 computers have been refurbished and donated to local students, and seven media centers have been established in the United States, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Cameroon, Kenya and the Philippines.
As if that wasn't enough, Lin also volunteers as an adviser for a project spearheaded by his 11-year-old sister, Cassandra, that recycles used cooking oil into biofuel used to provide financially strapped families heating assistance.
That's why both Alex and Cassandra Lin are Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Heroes finalists. Now in its seventh year, the program recognizes outstanding kids for their contributions and community service by awarding 10 children a $7,500 scholarship each and another $2,500 to donate to their pet charitable causes. The winners of this amazing contest will be announced June 16, at a national press conference.
Alex Lin recently shared his views on technology and education with ParentDish, along with his plans for the future.
ParentDish: How did you get interested in providing people access to computers and technology?
Alex Lin: First of all, computers basically jump-started my education. As a kid, my father gave me access to an entire host of educational computer games that gave me a definite advantage in the classroom, as well as a fascination for knowledge. I would actually sit down at the computer and go through interesting articles on Encarta Encyclopedia with my dad. Even though my project had an environmental focus, I saw in it a very practical way to accomplish two tasks at once -- minimize the e-waste flow, while providing others with the opportunity to succeed.
PD: Why is it important for everyone to have access to a working computer?
AL: Computers open an entire world of opportunities. The Internet is one of the most powerful resources in the world. In addition, computers can have infinite functions -- they can drastically enhance any document or presentation, and are an integral tool for making an impact in whatever you do.
PD: The description of your project includes the words "sustainable system." Can you tell us about that?
AL: The phrase "sustainable system" means that it is a system that essentially runs itself without needing any work from an outside source. I led my team to create this system for that very purpose, so that when we leave for college ... our work will continue. We coordinated the recyclers, residents and the town to do so. We need the recyclers to actually handle the e-waste, the residents need to be informed to recycle or reuse their electronics and the town needs to enforce the recycling system. By targeting each of the separate components, we were able to create a model system. From then on, the system would run itself.
PD: What inspired you?
AL: I see engineering and technology as a way to make definite change in the world. As an engineer, I can work to improve products, systems and the general quality of life in the world. I became aware that my grassroots activism could only affect so much. To make a more significant impact, I wanted to fix the problems at the source. As a result, I am a strong believer in the fourth R -- reduce, reuse, recycle -- and redesign.
PD: Have you always been interested in volunteering?
AL: I got started in volunteering in fifth grade. The year before, I had participated in the Destination Imagination program. I loved the problem-solving aspect of it, but at the same time realized that all the work I was doing was theoretical, and I wanted to do something to impact the real world. I brought together a group of friends from the gifted and talented program in my school system, and we founded the Westerly Innovations Network.
PD: Your sister, Cassandra, is also a semi-finalist. Do you think you influenced her to be a community activist? It seems to be a family affair.
AL: Definitely. Ever since my first project back in 2002, my sister has been almost an unofficial part of the team. Actually, in the past two years, my personal focus has shifted off of my own project and onto coaching hers. I am the coach of (her team), Project TGIF, and ... it has been an incredibly rewarding experience to watch her team mature and improve their skills.
PD: What do you see yourself doing in the future?
AL: I plan on pursuing a career in engineering and entrepreneurship. I can see myself working as an engineer for a few years after college or graduate school, and then managing a start-up company or breaking out some new entrepreneurial venture. Social and environmental activism also factor into my plans -- I feel that whatever line of work I eventually choose, those two components will find their way into my work.
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